Five Giants, Then and Now - Squalor

Activity: Talk or presentationPublic lecture


Following the Second World War, slum housing conditions were transformed for many lower income households in the UK, and significant progress was made towards breaking the association between income poverty and poor housing conditions. Mass development of social housing made affordable, adequate homes available on a new scale; and squalor, one of the five giant evils identified by Beveridge, was substantially lessened. Yet the mass development of social housing also brought new problems and challenges. The zeal to end squalor in urban space, expressed in Modernist ideals of the city, saw losses in social cohesion. What had been housing for the workers also sometimes turned into spatial concentrations of relative poverty as the UK began the process of deindustrialisation. Mass development of social housing had been replaced by disinvestment and mass privatisation within three decades. Legislative change in the late 1970s also shifted the focus of social housing, repurposing the tenure as a safety net for those facing homelessness and housing exclusion. British society has also pushed at the margins of owner occupation, encouraged a resurgence in a relatively unregulated private rented sector, and with changes in the supply and financing of social housing, found itself in a position where unaffordable housing is exacting both a social and economic cost.

Squalor, one of the five giant evils Beveridge identified, has been greatly lessened since his time, but it has not been defeated and is, in some respects, resurgent. We must recognise this challenge and react correctly, to mend the UK’s broken housing markets, and avoid even a partial return to the deep housing inequalities of the past.
Period22 Nov 2017
Held atUniversity of York
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • Housing
  • Inequality